Engaging Museum Audiences
Keeping the Focus on Learning in e-Learning
Soliciting User Comments
It's been a while since I posted to the New Media blog, but plenty of work has been going into the blog system itself to fix bugs and add features. Building a blog server is less work than you may think if you have enough control over your CMS. For instance, pinging a blog site with your new content is easy using a XML-RPC call - PHP even has a helpful xmlrpc_encode_request function - and a site like Pingomatic will pass the message on to everyone for you
The remaining big feature for us is user comments - I'm not sure we're even a real blog till we enable this. Although the museums I've spoken to haven't experienced problems with comments, most still retain safe-guards. This might be through a registration/email verification system or pre-approving comments to appear on the site. One method favours the regular contributor, the other casual commenters. I haven't seen a system that lets the user decide which they group they belong to, but this might be a good way forward.
Of course, this work could be avoided by installing a blog server like WordPress but by integrating with our in-house content management system (the snappily named Amgueddfa CMS) this work will eventually find its way throughout our site. One of the projects we're working on will introduce lots of interesting articles and other content about our collections. We'd like people to discuss those themes too.
The Morgan Library and The Whitney Museum of American Art
Today I visited the Morgan Library, which has been recently refurbished. It's worth a visit to see the building not just their collections, which include manuscripts, early printed books, and old master drawings and prints.
Apart from their impressive galleries, they also have facilities to allow you to pour through their website. The website includes CORSAIR, the online website catalogue, as well as collection highlights and online exhibitions.
I also had the chance to visit Dina at the Whitney Museum of American Art. They have designed a superb resource for teachers in Learning@Whitney (www.whitney.org/learning). Teachers can either use the pre-prepared lessons (which are theme based) or print images and create their own lessons. There are even sections for kids and teens to develop their own online galleries.
Ellis Island Immigration Museum
Today I went to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, and decided for the first time this trip to get the audio guide. This proved to be well worth it - I seemed to be more immersed in the tour, and be more interested in the collections and exhibition.
There were some touchscreens that had access to all the census information. In fact, I looked to see how many Welsh there are currently living in the US (942,377), you can even check the population density. There were also some terminals that allowed you to check names that entered the USA through Ellis Island
Following my trip to Ellis Island I visited the Skyscraper Museum, which was very small, detailing some facts about the world's (and New York's) tallest buildings. It also contained some documentary videos running off DVD boxes.
Museum of Television and Radio & Digital Knowledge Ventures
My visit to the Museum of Television and Radio was an alien experience to me. They explained as I entered how it worked - you could view screenings which are at certain times of the day, then visit their library of television shows and films. They also had a choice of 5 radio programs running on loop all day
This was very strange as there were no artifacts - at least none I'd seen. Unfortunately I missed the museum tour which started in the gallery downstairs. I ventured upstairs just in time for a show's screening. There are several rooms so you can pick and choose throughout the afternoon (it's only open from 12pm).
Later on I visited the library, which (as they explained) allows you to choose 2 shows or films to watch in a private booth. These booths were great - and they would be fantastic for any large film archive
I also visited Vivian at Digital Knowledge Ventures, which is part of Columbia University. They have done some great work for museums, including many websites and interactive touchscreens (using Director). I've got a lot to look at when I get back, especially one of their current projects for the Library of Congress.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Jewish Museum
I visited 2 museums today up on New York's Museum Mile (5th Ave). Not all museums are open on a Monday so it's worth planning beforehand. I visited the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Jewish Museum.
The Guggenheim is a stunning piece of architecture, but unfortunately I couldn't enjoy it's exterior much as the building is undergoing some renovations. Still there was plenty of art to enjoy, with some very famous paintings on display. The interpretive technology in the galleries is very minimal - a digital signage system in the foyer is about all I could find. There are some very striking audio-visual installations though, with all the technology carefully hidden. Unfortunately there was no opportunity to visit the Sackler Center, which is described as a 'learning laboratory'.
The Jewish Museum is currently holding an exhibition on new photography and video art. In one part there was an interesting use of large LCD displays on stands arranged into a circle, where you could sit in the middle and watch multiple streams of videos at the same time. Each system seemed to be running from separate machines, though still in sync! I like their Goodkind Media Center, which houses PCs with web-based access to new media and video archives.
Yesterday's visit to the Brooklyn Museum gave us much food for thought. We met with Nicole, who works within the exhibition department. They are finding effective ways of interpreting the collections without affecting the integrity of the exhibition. Projects like 'Graffiti' have been very popular within the community, as they have been incorporating social networking tools like Flickr.
Policing the comments must be quite hard work, but ultimately worth it. The online community they have built up is an important contact point for the Museum, and they are careful not to abuse this trust with too much marketing.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Today we met with Matt from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who is the General Manager of the website. It was a very insightful meeting, and I think Chris and I gained much from speaking with him. Apart from discussing databases and user tagging, we also talked about the difficulties of developing web projects in a museum. It was quite refreshing to see that even one of the largest museums in the USA has some similar issues to us!
After the meeting we went for a wander round the vast museum and looked at one of the few interactives they have (a labelling system). The museum has a huge collection, with some very famous works of art on display (that even I recognised!).
Museums in New York
Yesterday I visited New York's National Museum of the American Indian, which is also a Smithsonian Institute museum. On entering the building the first thing that strikes you is the Rotunda (and oval room)which has the exhibitions leading off it. You are also welcomed by a flash-based (I think) display letting you know what exhibitions are available and what events are coming up.
The exhibits were very good, and well designed. I especially enjoyed the contemporary 'Off the Wall' exhibition, which had a slick video presentation by Erica Lord. They also had contemplation areas between exhibitions, which is a nice touch.
I also went to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, where the original core exhibition (built 1997) is still very engaging. Though I felt there was a lot to digest, the artifacts are fascinating and the videos give a lot of very interesting oral history.
Today I visited the American Museum of Natural History, which is apparently the world's largest museum of it's kind. There was plenty to see and do there, even though any of the galleries were off-limits. I particularly liked the Hall of Planet Earth, and the Hall of Biodiversity which provided plenty of audio visual things for me to look at - and some effective ways of using touchscreens.